Assuming that anything happens as planned in this extraordinary election campaign, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and Kamala Harris as Vice-President, on Inauguration Day, 20 January, 2021. The ceremony and traditional celebrations that follow will be much smaller than in previous years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two months after the presidential election, during which the incumbent, Donald Trump, contested the results, and after the Capitol was invaded by Trump supporters in scenes of rioting that resulted in four deaths, Congress certified Joe Biden's election in the early hours of 7 January. This was the last, normally ceremonial, part of the electoral-college process. Although the electoral college electors voted on 14 December, their votes have to be counted and officially certified by a joint session of the two houses of Congress in January. That then clears the way for the Inauguration.
Since 1981, the Inauguration proper has taken place in front of the Capitol building, and then the new president has joined a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, to take up residence. Celebrations normally go on into the evening with several charity fundraising Inaugural Balls.
This year, the numbers attending the ceremony will be severely limited and citizens are being discouraged to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the celebrations, which will be largely virtual.
Swearing the Oath
The two-and-a-half month period between the election and the inauguration seems very long to people in countries where governments transition in the space of hours of days. But it the Constitution originally set the date of Inauguration on 4 March. Like so much of the U.S. election system, that is a hangover from a time when it took literally weeks or months for votes to be collected from the furthest flung states and taken to Washington, D.C. In 1933, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution changed the date to 20 January, unless it is a Sunday.
A painting in the Capitol, the U.S. parliament, of Abraham Lincoln's second Inauguration, on 4 March 1865, after the Civil War.
Today, the only part of the Inauguration that comes from the original Constitution is the oath itself:
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
It is administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in front of the assembled members of Congress and their guests. Traditionally, the outgoing President and former Presidents also attend.
Addressing the Nation
After being sworn in, the President addresses the nation in a speech that lays out their intentions for the presidency. One of the most famous addresses was John F. Kennedy's address at his first inauguration in 1961, where he aimed to unite the country.
At recent Inaugurations, up to 250,000 invitations were issued to the swearing-in ceremony. In these socially distanced times, only about a 1,000 will be available, for the 535 Congress members and their plus ones.
As at any event where the entire U.S. government is assembled in one place (notably the State of the Union speech), one Representative or Senator is named as “Designated Survivor” and is kept safe in a secret location, in case anything untoward should happen.
Organisation by Committee
While the official ceremony is organised by a congressional committee, the rest of the traditional events are organised, and paid for, by a committee named by the President Elect, which accepts donations to cover the vast costs. President Trump’s Inaugural Committee raised $107 million, of which it donated $5 million to charity.
President Elect Biden’s committee is very much concentrated on health and safety, leaving details of the virtual events to be revealed at the last minute. The celebration of the Inauguration will begin two days earlier on 18 January, Martin Luther King Day. The incoming President, Vice-President and their families will participate in the national Day of Service that traditionally marks MLK's birthday. They hope many of their supporters will join in community projects around the country.
White House/Chuck Kennedy
Allyn Cox/Architect of the Capitol
White House Photo
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